The headlines are nonstop. We are told that people are dying every day because of abuse of opioid analgesics. There are tragic stories about overdose deaths. This makes lawmakers want to crack down and make it harder for doctors to prescribe such medications and people to access them. Some people, like this reader, are caught in the cross fire of the opioid epidemic.
Q. What are people in chronic pain going to do now that the pendulum has swung toward not prescribing opiates for those in chronic pain?
As a hospice nurse I frequently see patients suffering from terminal cancer pain. I myself am a chronic pain patient and am scared to death that I will no longer be able to get adequate relief from severe pain.
Is anyone with compassion overseeing agencies such as the DEA, insurance companies or government policy makers?
A. Regulators are caught on the horns of a terrible dilemma. On the one hand they are dealing with an opioid epidemic. There are scary headlines about abuse of drugs like oxycodone (OxyContin) or fentanyl. Overdose deaths are reported almost every day.
DEA Cracks the Whip:
As a result of the opioid epidemic, policy makers have cracked down on drugs like oxycodone and hydrocodone. The Drug Enforcement Administration has made it harder for physicians to prescribe such medications for people dealing with chronic pain. Many doctors are now fearful to prescribe these drugs for more than a few weeks.
Many patients suffering long-term severe pain are having a hard time getting relief. We have heard from hundreds of people who never abused opioids or increased their dose.
Stories from Readers:
Kay in Seattle, Washington:
“I had a terrible slip & fall in the shower 6 years ago and for 4 years following that accident, I had relentless pain, my mobility decreased, I gained weight and slowly slipped into a very scary, dark place emotionally and mentally.
“Luckily and by the grace of God, I found a combination of a good pain doctor and 2 specialists in alternative therapies that have slowly but surely helped me to start to regain my life back. I am not 100% but I am a lot better.
“It makes me so sad because I know there are people out there who have not been able to find medical professionals that can help and/or will really listen. Reading about people in pain who cannot access treatment makes my chest tighten up, my heart ache and brings tears to my eyes.
“I shudder to think where I might be had I not found help. Pain meds work for people who need them & the people who need them should be able to get them without being put through the 3rd degree. They feel bad enough already without being denied and shamed by the government or medical professionals.”
Jan in Alaska writes:
“I have worked in the Carpenters Union for over 20 years. I have also been in three rear end collisions. Between these injuries and osteoarthritis I would not be able to function if it weren’t for opioids I would never get any sleep. If you cannot sleep you cannot function.
“I have NEVER over used, or abused my prescriptions. I feel I am suffering because of the actions of others.”
Jackie in South Carolina has an interesting perspective on a powerful drug:
“I am going on 80 years of age and have been taking oxycodone on and off for several years for chronic back pain. Before I reach for the oxycodone I try everything else in my ‘arsenal’ like heat patches, Tylenol, ice packs…you name it…and if they don’t relieve my pain I take the opioid.
“There are trade offs. Constipation, a slight hangover in the morning, etc. No one has to protect me from myself and I resent someone unrelated and uninformed about my medical condition having the power to dictate how much pain I must tolerate.
“What are we to do without the option of oxycodone and the like? Lie awake through the night and suffer? People who find a way to abuse that particular substance will just turn to something else with possibly greater consequences. Who, then, is better off?”
The People’s Pharmacy Perspective:
Sadly, there are no simple solutions to the challenging dilemma of the opioid epidemic. It is not clear that restricting access to these drugs for people in severe chronic pain will end the opioid abuse problem in America. Sadly, we do not have great alternative strategies for dealing with this kind of pain.